Los Angeles Rams: Three key matchups vs. San Francisco

by Skyler Carlin
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The Los Angeles Rams completed their tour in the NFC East in Week 5, defeating the Washington Football Team 30-10 in a downpour in the nation’s capital. Following Sean McVay and company’s completion of their series with the NFC East, the Rams will square off in their first NFC West bout of the season versus the San Francisco 49ers in Week 6.

By defeating Washington handily, Los Angeles improved to 4-0 on the season against the NFC East, which is actually the combined number of wins that reside within the division. Despite San Francisco’s recent struggles, the Rams will be tested on Sunday Night Football.

Dissimilar to the game in Week 4 versus the New York Giants, Los Angeles immediately got into a rhythm offensively against Ron Rivera’s squad last Sunday. Jared Goff would complete his first 10 pass attempts, and the Rams would score touchdowns on their first three offensive drives, seizing control of the game early.

Besides the much-improved play from the offense, the defense played with an increased level of intensity in Week 5. While Washington would have Kyle Allen and Alex Smith take snaps at quarterback, the Rams tallied eight sacks, with seven of them coming from the pass-rushing extraordinaire — Troy Reeder — and Aaron Donald.

Regardless of how the 49ers have looked in recent weeks, division matchups always tend to make games interesting. In light of that, let’s take a look at a few marquee positional battles that could transpire in Los Angeles’ upcoming contest against the reigning NFC Champions.

Rob Havenstein vs. Arik Armstead

Early in the 2020 season, the 49ers have endured a slew of injuries on both sides of the ball. When it comes to the defense, San Francisco has lost Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas for the entire season due to torn ACLs.

Meanwhile, the 49ers placed Dee Ford on short-term injured reserve with a back injury, leaving them a bit shorthanded at the edge-rushing positions. Given the injuries they have experienced, San Francisco’s best remaining pass rusher is Arik Armstead.

Armstead inked a massive five-year, $85 million extension with the 49ers this past offseason after logging a career-best 10 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2019. The offensive lineman for the Rams that will draw the responsibility of keeping Armstead out of the backfield is Rob Havenstein.

Havenstein has been much better than he was a season ago, allowing just one sack on 336 offensive snaps so far this season. If the Rams want to prevent San Francisco’s pass rush from becoming a hindrance on Sunday night, they’ll need Havenstein to keep Armstead away from Goff.

Aaron Donald vs. 49ers’ IOL

What more can be said about Donald that hasn’t been said already. Amid Los Angeles’ lopsided victory over Washington last Sunday, Donald had an applaudable effort, notching four sacks and a forced fumble.

Through the first five weeks of the season, Donald leads the NFL with 7.5 sacks, and he continues to prove that he’s the most dominant defensive player in the league. Ironically enough, the only other game of his career where he recorded four sacks was in Week 7 of the 2018 season against, you guessed it, the 49ers.

Kyle Shanahan and San Francisco know how lethal Donald can be and how he can single-handedly wreck an offense’s gameplan. Therefore, expect to see Shanahan throw a few exotic looks that are intended to mitigate Donald’s progress to the quarterback.

Nevertheless, Donald is going to have a chance to have another productive outing in Week 6 versus an interior trio of Laken Tomlinson, Ben Garland, and Daniel Brunskill. Altogether, Tomlinson, Garland, and Brunskill have allowed a combined six sacks so far, and Donald will give them their stiffest test of the season.

Jalen Ramsey vs. George Kittle

With the arrival of Brandon Staley as the defensive coordinator of the Rams, it is apparent that he isn’t a fan of keeping Jalen Ramsey at one spot for an entire game. Ramsey has moved around a ton in his second season — first full season — in Los Angeles, being given the responsibility of shadowing the opposing team’s best-receiving option when need be.

And when the Rams take the field on Sunday Night Football, there’s no question that San Francisco’s best threat in the passing attack is George Kittle. Provided that, expect to see Ramsey lined up across Kittle for portions of the game in Week 6.

Back in Week 2 versus the Philadelphia Eagles, the Rams’ All-Pro cornerback was chored with covering Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz in certain moments. At the end of the game, Ramsey would rarely hear his name called, being targeted twice by Carson Wentz for a total of zero receptions for zero yards.

Seeing his success against Philadelphia’s tight end duo, Staley could deploy Ramsey on Kittle for the majority of Sunday’s inter-division contest. Kittle is arguably the best all-around tight end in the NFL. Kittle is just two weeks removed from catching 15 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown, making him a focal point for Los Angeles’ entire defense.

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